PODCAST: Celebrating Allied Healthcare Professionals Week
The NSGEU has worked to have the 1st week of November proclaimed as Allied Healthcare Professionals week. While the Province is yet to make the agreed to declaration, we will take this opportunity to recognize our thousands of Allied Health care Professionals. This has been an unprecedented year and many of you were on the front line of Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 response and will be there if or when the second wave arrives.
When Nova Scotians go into a hospital, they are serviced by an untold number of health care professionals and can usually identify the nurses and doctors with whom we interact. However, behind the scenes, there are a vast number of hidden heroes of health care who provide a multitude of diagnostic services. These services provide the invaluable information to ensure timely and proper treatment.
There are thousands of allied healthcare professionals, working in over 140 different occupations, committed to delivering quality care to Nova Scotians every day. Many of these professionals will never be seen by the patient or their families, but they are a vital part in delivering quality care to Nova Scotians.
All of you are feeling the pinch of a transitioning health care system. You are stressed, you are working shorthanded and sometimes you may feel that your contribution to our health care system is unappreciated. Your work is absolutely vital to the day-to-day quality of healthcare for all. We want to thank you for the work you do. We will continue our efforts with government to have this week officially recognized on your behalf.
Again, we want thank you for the services you provide to Nova Scotians.
EDIT: The NSGEU received a signed copy of the Provincial Proclamation on November 6. You can see a copy of the proclamation HERE
Hello and welcome to this long awaited new episode of Union Maters, NSGEU’s podcast. I am your host this week, Holly [Fraughton], and I am joined here to day by Connor Porter, welcome Conner.
CP Thanks for having me.
HF We took a bit of a hiatus in podcasting during the onset of the pandemic, but we decided to start back again with a special episode to recognize Allied Healthcare Professionals Week, which we celebrate during the first week of November in Nova Scotia. But, back at NSGEU’s triennial convention in 2019 we passed a resolution to raise awareness of the crucial role our allied healthcare professionals paly in our healthcare system. Since then, the union has tried to raise awareness of the week and we’ve written to the Premier, asking him to make it an official week here in Nova Scotia. He wrote back, I think it was in January, and he agreed to proclaim this week in 2020. So, Mr. Premier, if you are listening, please consider this your reminder.
I think there are something like 140 occupations that fall under the umbrella of allied healthcare professionals, and Connor, you are one of them.
CP Yes I am
HF You’re a Medical Laboratory Technologist (MLT)?
CP That’s Correct
HF What, exactly, does a medical laboratory technologist do?
CP We preform the majority of routine diagnostic testing in the hospital. If you’ve ever had a sample collected – blood, or a swab, or anything like that – it gets sent off to the lab, and the lab is us. I work in Microbiology, but there’s lots of small disciplines, like Chemistry and Hematology and Blood Transfusion, so we also do a lot of blood collection, depending on where you’re from, so you may have had a lab tech taking your blood wherever you had your tests done.
HF You work in Microbiology?
CP Yes, I work in the Microbiology Department of the QEII.
HF So what, specifically, do you guys test for and look for. What kind of procedures do you guys do?
CP Normally we do infectious diseases, so the big thing is that we do all the COVID testing.
HF Oh, okay! So you’ve been busy!
CP Yeah, it’s been a busy year. Lots of changes. Outside of that we do lots of routines like UTI: if you’ve ever sent a urine sample, we would do the culture for that. If you’ve ever had strep throat and had a swab sent off to the lab, that would be us.
HF Okay. All bacterial things and MRSA?
CP Yeah MRSA and VRE, CRE, all the fun bugs. Not just bacteria, bacteria, viruses, parasites, we cover all those bases.
HF You must have extra extra precautions in place because of COVID. Is anything changed in your work environment since this all started.
CP Oh yeah! It’s been a little topsy-turvy with all the changes. We have added precautions. Nothing over the top since we took precautions anyway for infectious diseases whenever we’re dealing with it, but we added additional precautions on top of our routine ones, for our own safety and for the public safety because we don’t want anything getting out anywhere.
HF I’m guessing the volume of your work has increased pretty dramatically, like the number of tests you’re processing, even in COVID alone, plus the normal stuff.
CP We’ve implemented tons of changes to make that process easier to increase our capacity and make it easier on our end. We’ve done many more tests than we’re used to before. Normally in virology we would only do 100 tests a day, but now with COVID we’re probably doing anywhere from 500-1,000 tests depending on how busy things are going. They’ve been working on increasing our capacity, so we’ve got lots of new equipment. At the start it was just man-power and over-time.
HF Well we appreciate the work you did. That’s been a busy time, I’m sure. In non-COVID times, what does a typical day look like for you?
CP A typical day you check to see what type of tests you need to do during the day. If you’re in Bacteriology you might have cultures that were set up overnight so we can analyse it. So you’ll have a set amount of work you want to get through in a day. Same thing in Virology, which are the main two disciplines I work in. We’ll usually have a key of specimens we need to get through in a day, so we organize our day around that and then go from there doing our testing. We look at bacteria growing in a Petrie dish and deciding what’s a pathogen and what might be normal flora that would be considered normal in your body. In virology we need to do DNA extraction and amplification. So we would set those up into runs, like all the shingles ones for the day, and get those organized. It can be quite a long process, maybe 4 or 5 hours.
HF Okay. So you try to do it in batches and make sure it’s all really organized…
CP Yeah, exactly. For virology, setting it up in batches, we can get a bunch of samples out at once, and it’s a little more efficient.
HF How many people are in your lab? How many do the work you do?
CP It’s increased a lot. There’s so many new faces, I don’t know then all anymore. 20 or 30 people? I would have to check. We are also doing more shift work. There’s more people doing evening and over-night shifts now to keep the lab open 24 hours for the COVID testing.
HF Okay. So that’s been an adjustment for you guys, having new shifts.
CP And we’ve needed a lot more clerical staff and lab assistants to help us put through all the paperwork. We get the requisitions and they have to be put into the computer so the results go to the right people. And the Medical Lab Assistant (MLA) help us get the samples set up and labelled properly and ready to go, so the techs can do the analysis.
HF So there’s a lot of you guys doing different functions that all relate to one another. Teamwork makes the dream work.
CP Exactly. And we’ll have MLAs and MLTs trained in different aspects. There might be a tech that’s trained in bacteriology and others doing virology and stuff like that.
HF So basically there’s this whole other world that is within the hospital that patients never see that we count on a lot to make sure people get diagnosed and treated.
CP Yes, I’d say so. And that’s just microbiology. I think people underestimate how large the lab it. The main lab is in the MacKenzie Building. The whole building is all labs. Lots of different disciplines do other tests other than microbiology.
HF I think it’s one of those things, if you don’t see it you don’t realize how extensive it is.
CP You don’t get to see lab techs very often as a patient.
HF I bet you guys are kinda glad for that.
CP Sometimes. Sometimes not. It’s nice to be able to talk to people and actually tell them what you’re doing. Some people are pretty interested. I always like to educate people if they want to know about it. Most people find it pretty interesting to actually know how it goes for getting your swab or getting your blood taken to a result from your doctor.
HF How long have you being doing this work for?
CP I’ve been a lab tech for about 5 years. Most of that’s been in microbiology. When I first started I was in Hematology for 6 months.
HF What’s your background. How did you get into this?
CP Generally, if you’re going to be an MLT, in Nova Scotia you go to Community College. They have a specific MLT course. Other schools across the country provide a similar program. We’re accredited by a governing council for the country called CSMLS: Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science. There’s a standardized test everyone has to take to get certified.
HF What made you want to get into this line of work?
CP At one point I knew I wanted to go back to school and I wanted to go into healthcare. I thought about what aspects of healthcare would appeal to me and I’ve always enjoyed science and research and I’ve always wanted to work in a lab, so the discipline, when I looked through the possible choices, really stood out to me.
HF Yeah, when people think healthcare, they generally think doctors and nurses and paramedics and the front line people, but there’s actually a whole group of people behind the scenes.
CP There’s a lot of people in healthcare, like porters, running things around, dieticians, physiotherapists, respiratory therapists, there’s a lot.
HF What do you enjoy the most about your work?
CP The problem solving. When you get to see a specimen and you have to figure out what’s good bacteria and what’s bad bacteria. I enjoy the problem-solving aspect. And the lab is always changing. With the pace of technology things are always updating, so I enjoy learning something new. The change has been quite rapid this year. Lots of opportunities to learn, especially with COVID. So much research going into learning new methods. Our managers and doctors who are in charge of the lab do a good job of getting new technologies in, so we can keep our testing up to date.
HF We’ve been a central lab for some other provinces as well. Haven’t we been helping out with testing for other provinces?
CP We’ve done some testing. We did some from New Brunswick and Saint Pierre and Miquelon. So yeah, we’ve been helping out.
HF It’s nice that we have the capacity to do that.
CP It has been. We have to give credit to the managers and doctors for getting us new equipment for us to be able to up that workload. And also the staff in the lab. They’ve done a lot of hiring. It’s been a stressful year. Every day you have to change your workflow to something new. It’s been exhausting, but interesting at the same time.
HF Where did they find all these new science-y people so suddenly?
CP Some of them were stolen from other labs in the hospital. Most of those people went back since, but if things go crazy again, we can call them back.
HF Pre-COVID, we all had challenges. What are some of the biggest challenges you guys face in the lab?
CP Communication with other staff in other parts of the hospital. People don’t understand very well how the lab works. It’s definitely on us sometimes. You don’t always have the patience to explain why you don’t have the results yet. Things happen where results may be delayed more than usual. Sometimes you get a problem specimen where the normal techniques don’t work on it so you have to re-sample or redo the tests. Some tests are really quick, some take a few days before you get results back.
HF Trying to manage peoples expectations when it comes to the results.
CP Exactly. I understand why people get frustrated because they have a patient who’s sick and they’re relying on the results so they can help them.
HF So it’s stressful. People are waiting for your work.
CP Yeah. It is important. People are making big, life-changing decisions based on your work in the lab.
HF How have things changed in the lab because of COVID?
CP They’ve changed quite a bit. At the start of all this it was just the stress of going into work and what are our new precautions going to be, working with specimens, even just being around other co-workers who have to deal with this and everyone wearing masks. At the end of the day the biggest change was just the huge influx of work that we got in. Most of our staff got switched over to what we call sessioning: entering all the requisitions we get with the samples (the piece of paper with the patient information and the doctor it needs to go to) so we had to set up new systems for that. The data entry was probably the biggest workload increase in the lab.
HF I think that’s a universal complaint from people in healthcare, no matter what they do, is the sheer volume of paperwork that is required with their job and how much that takes them away from their other tasks.
CP Generally it’s not too hard once that stuff is entered into a computer, but getting it in there can be… People in our lab have put in a lot of work hours getting that stuff in. Probably more than the actually testing!
HF Is there anything you wish the general public knew or understood better about the work that you and your colleagues do in the lab?
CP I think people don’t understand what a huge beast the lab is in the hospital. We are separated from the public. We probably have hundreds of lab techs working for the NSHA. It is a huge part of the healthcare system. I think the stat is that 70% of a diagnosis is assisted by a lab result of some sort. Without those results being timely and accurate, healthcare suffers a lot.
HF Totally, that information is necessary to quantify and back up a theory, too.
CP There’s some stuff you can diagnose from symptoms, but at the end of the day, without the information from the lab, they’re kind of just guessing.
HF You’ve answered all of my questions, but is there anything you want to add? Not only from your discipline, but about other allied healthcare professionals?
CP Just awareness that all those jobs exist and they are very important to healthcare. There’s a huge faction of people doing tons of different jobs.
HF It’s pretty impressive, actually. When I saw the number: 140 different occupations, I thought, WOW!
CP I would never have guessed that it was that high.
HF It’s a lot, and on a larger scale, as a union, NSGEU represents 1,800 different occupations, which is a lot of types of jobs!
Well, Connor, I really appreciate the time for you to come talk to me today about the important work you are doing. To our listeners we hope you have learned something about our allied healthcare workers that help keep our healthcare system running. Thank you so much for tuning in to NSGEU’s Union Matters podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter @NSGEU. Have a good night!
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